CD Review: Big Star - #1 Record

This legendary album gets the remastered treatment.
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In spite of their ironic name and title of their first album, Big Star never achieved much commercial success during their initial run as a band. While some of this can be attributed to distribution problems with Stax Records at the time, it still did not stop them from being a huge influence on the likes of REM, The Replacements and countless others. The band's debut, #1 Record, which was available for years (and in several versions) as a twofer disc coupled with the band's second album, Radio City, has been remastered and rereleased in a stand-alone configuration with liner notes from REM's Mike Mills.

Big Star was the marriage between former Box Tops singer, Alex Chilton, and the members of Ice Water -- Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens. After a failed stint in New York, Chilton returned to Memphis and joined Ice Water, which soon became Big Star. He and Bell wrote songs in a Lennon/McCartney fashion, with Chilton playing the edgier Lennon to Bell's more melodic McCartney. The resulting album, even if no one heard it at the time, was fantastic.

In spite of Bell being the melodic one, he took lead vocals on some of the album's most rocking cuts, including the opening track, "Feel," which blended a Robert Plant-like vocal with Beatles harmonies and the blistering "Don't Lie To Me." Bell also features on "In The Street," later made famous by the cover versions used to open That 70s Show.

Chilton handles vocals on the power pop gem, "When My Baby's Beside Me," with its jangly guitars. He also delivers some of the album's most wistful moments, including the George Harrison-sounding "The Ballad Of El Goodo" and the tender look at days of youth, "Thirteen." It's a testament to the late singer's talents that his vocals could sound so different from his Box Tops days, yet still be equally potent.

While the album has always had a bright, trebly sound, this CD sounds better than the previous twofer edition from 2009. The audio is reportedly from the Redbook layer of the out of print 2004 SACD and, unlike too many CDs in this era, it is thankfully not brick walled, leaving the original dynamics intact.

The album is as near perfect a debut as one could hope for, with the only possible exception being Hummel's "The India Song." The good feelings wouldn't last, however. Bell was battling depression and left the band during the sessions for their follow-up, Radio City. Still, he and Chilton crafted a pop masterpiece in #1 Record that has since gotten the acclaim it deserves. Big Star's #1 Record is a must-own for pop music fans.